Express & Star

Revealed: Meet the man making limbs out of drainpipes

NHS specialist uses cheap, accessible and robust materials to change the lives of amputees in countries affected by natural disasters or war

Viquar Qurashi with limbs he makes out of drainpipe

For the past 13 years surgeon Viquar Qurashi has offered people in countries hit by natural disaster or war a lifeline.

He has transformed their futures by fitting them with artificial legs made from plastic drainpipes.

Now the trauma and orthopaedic specialist at Russells Hall Hospital in Dudley has helped a young mother thousands of miles away who lost both her hands in a vicious attack.

He fitted the 22-year-old woman in Jamaica with new hands – allowing her to hold and feed her baby daughter and, hopefully, return to work.

Mr Qurashi made prosthetic hands for Jasiene

And the achievement was made even more remarkable by the fact that he made the artificial hands without meeting her in person.

“Working around the time differences, we spent plenty of time on video calls, getting her exact measurements,” said Mr Qurashi, who has worked for The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust for 27 years and has his own charity, the Naya Qadam Trust.

“I usually fly out to a country and spend time there with my team, making and fitting the prosthetic limbs in person.

“While I have made upper limbs before, this was the first time I have had to do all the work remotely. We spent a lot of time on video calls, getting exact measurements, so when I did go over to Jamaica everything was ready,” says Mr Qurashi, who works with readily accessible, cheap materials so they can easily be replicated and replaced as they wear out over time.

He began the project following the earthquake in Pakistan in 2005.

“That changed my life. I took a team of doctors out there but we couldn’t do what we wanted to because we had no theatre, no power supply and so on. All we could do was amputate, although that, in itself, was lifesaving.

“We left after two weeks but realised that in these developing countries there was no infrastructure for a health service, so what would happen to these amputees? Either they would lie in a bed until they died, or they would become beggars,” he says.

With average artificial limbs in the western world costing up to £1,700 and only lasting two or three years, a simpler and cheaper solution was needed.

Mr Qurashi’s answer was to make artificial legs from drainpipes, which are melted and moulded locally to fit the amputee.

His charity Naya Qadam – which means ‘first steps’ in Urdu – then trains local teams in the techniques, so amputees can have a lifetime supply of limbs and it also benefits the local economy.

The limbs in action

Mr Qurashi has spent his holidays from Russells Hall working with his teams to fit more than 10,000 limbs in Syria, Turkey, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, Kashmir,Sri Lanka and Haiti.

It was through finding out about Naya Qadam on the internet that a charity in Jamaica contacted Mr Qurashi. They asked him to help Jasiene Greenfield who had lost both her hands in a vicious attack.

Sticking to his principles of a cheap, simple and easily replaced solution, he devised a system which would allow Jasiene to carry out a variety of different tasks.

To attach the hand to her arm, he used plaster casts which had been removed from patients in Dudley. The hands were made with old surgical gloves filled with a fix and fill expanding foam, used by plumbers.

Six hands were made in different positions as requested by Jaseine, allowing her to do things like hold a pencil or a glass. As a finishing touch, his wife even suggested adding pretty false nails to the interchangeable hands.

Mr Qurashi made two prosthetic hands for Jasiene Greenfield

Mr Qurashi finally travelled to the remote village in Jamaica, where Jasiene lives, to fit the new hands.

“The family live in just one room and Jasiene had been unable to hold and feed her eight-month-old baby,” he says.

“While I was there I went to the company she used to work for and asked them to give her her job back, and I am still in touch with them about that.

“I am also working on a body-powered hand with springs between the index finger and thumb, worked by a strap on the shoulder, which will give her even more dexterity,” adds Mr Qurashi.

The surgeon has just been back to Pakistan to work with 102 people needing prosthetic legs and with awareness of his work growing, he looks set to continue using his expertise to change the lives of people across the world.